13 Driving Myths Uncovered

These days there always seems to be a driving myth doing the rounds on social media but that’s exactly what a lot of them are — myths.

To help you sort the driving laws from the fake news, the RAC have put together an article with some definitive answers to a few of the most common motoring unknowns out there.


1. Is it illegal to eat and drive?

No, it’s not illegal to eat while driving.

However, if you get distracted while snacking behind the wheel, the police could prosecute you for careless driving if they consider you to not be in proper control of the vehicle, an offence which carries an on-the-spot fine of £100 and three penalty points.

Grabbing a cheeseburger at the drive-thru could also see you risk a fine if you get caught using your mobile phone to pay while your engine’s running.

2. Is it illegal to drink when driving?

Just like eating behind the wheel, taking a swig of water or coffee while you’re driving is not illegal, but it could carry the same careless driving penalty if you’re accused of being distracted.

It some situations, it can be more dangerous to not have a drink in the car with you. Scientists at Loughborough University found that driving while dehydrated can be just as dangerous as drink-driving.

Dehydration can cause a loss of focus and lead to drowsiness and slower reaction times. If you’re heading off on a long journey, particularly in hot weather, keep dehydration at bay by carrying a bottle of water in your car.

3. Is it illegal to smoke and drive?

Smoking while driving itself is not illegal, but just like eating and drinking, if it causes distraction behind the wheel you could face a charge of careless driving.

If you’re travelling with passengers aged under 18 though, it is illegal to smoke in the car following recent changes to the law that seek to protect children from second-hand smoke.

While health campaigners welcomed the legislation, in 2016 it was uncovered in a Freedom of Information request that the law is not being enforced by the majority of police forces.

4. Is it illegal to have a light on in a car while driving?

There’s no law against driving with interior lights on. But if a police officer pulls you over and adjudges your interior light to be a driving distraction they could ask you to turn it off, or even charge you with careless driving.

And it doesn’t have to be a distraction for you, either. If the light is judged to be dazzling or distracting to other road users, particularly those driving behind you, you may also be charged.

5. Is it illegal to have open alcohol in a car?

No. In the UK it’s not illegal for a passenger to be drinking alcohol while being driven, so by default it’s not illegal to have open alcohol containers in the car, unless you are supervising a learner driver.

The main alcohol law to remember is the UK drink-driving law, which states you can only drive if under the national drink-drive limit, or face heavy fines and a driving ban.

In 2016 alone, Department for Transport figures estimated that over 9,000 people were injured or killed in road collisions related to drink-driving.

The RAC branded these figures “very disappointing” and called for the government to be more vigilant in pressing home the message that “drink-driving ruins lives and makes our roads more dangerous.”

6. Is it illegal to drive with headphones on?

While there is no specific law that clearly states it’s not legal to drive while wearing headphones, it is highly unadvisable because it can be dangerous.

Not only could it see you charged with dangerous driving, loud music could also stop you from hearing emergency vehicle sirens, level crossing warnings, other road users and pedestrians approaching your vehicle.

7. Is it ok to make a phone call using a hands-free system?

Using a hand-held mobile phone while driving is illegal, punishable by six points on your licence and a £200 fine. Distractions by mobile phones are a deadly problem on the roads and caused 32 fatal collisions in 2016

You’re allowed to use a phone if it’s fully hands-free, but not allowed to interact with it in any way, which includes picking it up and even momentarily operating it. So any hands-free devices should be fully set up before you drive, so you can take calls without handling the device.

The police still have the power to stop you if they believe you have been distracted by using a mobile phone while driving, even if it’s fully hands-free. Some road safety groups believe mobile phones should be completely switched off while driving, to avoid any distractions.

8. Can you use a sat nav whilst driving?

Sat navs, whether a separate device or smartphone app, should be fixed in a set position, either on your windscreen or dashboard – we recommend dashboard so your view isn’t impeded.

Just like with hands-free phones, you should not interfere with your phone when you’re using it as your sat-nav while driving, because that will lead to six penalty points and a £200 fine if caught.

9. Are women better drivers than men?

According to a study on driving habits in rental cars, female drivers exceed the speed limit 17.5% more often than men, but males are five times more likely to cause damage to a rental car than female motorists.

Data from an NCP survey also proved women are better at parking than male motorists, scoring 13.4 out of 20 for manoeuvring compared to an average 12.3 for guys.

The real answer though, is that it’s impossible to say which gender is better because, in reality, it’s down to the individual.

Sorry if you were looking to settle a score, but there it is.

10. If a speed camera doesn’t flash does it mean I’ve not been caught?

The short answer is no.

There are many different variations of speed camera [JR1] but only the Gatso type flash to take a picture of you speeding – others catch you using infra-red light while travelling towards the unit.

While speed limits may vary from one road to the next, there is only one proven method to make sure you don’t get caught speeding — always know the speed limit of the road you’re on and stick to it.

11. Are you allowed to drive 10% over the speed limit?

No. While many vehicles’ speedometers allow a 10% error in overestimation (but not underestimation) built-in, this 10% allowance doesn’t exist. You can’t drive at 33mph in a 30mph zone, for example.

Simply put, if a police officer catches you with a mobile radar speed gun exceeding the limit, you are liable for prosecution even at 1mph over the limit.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) suggests police forces don’t prosecute until drivers exceed a margin of error of 10% of the speed limit, to take into account driver concentration, plus 2mph for speedometer error. But this is only a suggestion, not a rule and the NPCC don’t enforce the law – it’s down to the discretion of the police officer in question.

12. How many drinks can I have and still drive?

It’s a common myth that men can have ‘a pint or two’ or women a large glass of wine and still be safe to drive afterwards.

Your blood-alcohol level actually depends on many factors other than the alcoholic drinks you consume – whether you’ve eaten or exercised, how tired you are, or if you’re taking any medication can all affect how your body processes the chemical.

There are many factors to consider, it’s not a cut-and-dry rule. For more help read our complete guide to the drink-driving limits.

The best advice to make sure you’re safe enough to drive is to not guess at how many drinks to have for you to be over the limit, and simply not drink any alcohol at all.

13. Does my fully-comprehensive insurance policy cover me to drive other cars?

That depends on your insurance policy. It used to be the case that many policies came with ‘driving other cars’ (DOC) cover included as standard.

These days, this is far less common and will often only be included if the driver asks and pays more for it. Drivers under 25 are unlikely to even have this cover available to them.

Even if you do have DOC cover it’s only supposed to be used in an emergency, which means your provider might not pay out if you’re involved in a collision and don’t have a good reason to be driving someone else’s car.

To be sure of your specific cover, check your insurance policy to see what cars you can, and cannot, drive.

This article is courtesy of the RAC.